Two Addicts Try to Talk

“Stop that, Richard! Just stop it!”

Caught completely off guard, I stammered, “What? Stop what?”  Bob had just offered to give me jar of homemade plum preserves.

“When someone offers you something don’t hem-haw around. Don’t play this false humility crap, ‘Oh, I couldn’t…’ or insult me with ‘You shouldn’t…’  When I offer you something, say yes or no. Say, ‘No thank you.’ or ‘Thank you very much.’ Cut the bullsh*t, Richard! Say what you mean for god-sake.”

We had been driving down Lake Street and Bob got us talking about food by recalling what a perfect blueberry pie he’d had the night before — “all blueberries, none of this gelatin sh*t.” We retrieved some mutual ground by agreeing that we shared a special passion for raspberry pie as well as plum preserves.

No sooner had we fed the parking meter and entered Global Market when Bob was back at me.  Bright booths representing crafts from Tibet, Chile, Central America, Scandinavia as well as all sorts of locally produced organic meats, cheeses and fresh fruits and vegetables populated the Market.  An overdose of vibrant colors and distinctive  aromas danced all around.

We shared our delight and personal preferences.  I expressed disappointment that some of the shops were shuttered.

“D*mn it, Richard. Don’t do that!”

“What? Don’t do what?” I blurted defensively.

“Stop looking at the negative! That’s not going to do you any good. Stop commenting about the shops that are closed. Look at all that’s going on, not at what isn’t!  Look at the great stuff inside even if the shops are closed.”

One thing we did not see at Global Market was a good piece of raspberry pie. Here was my opportunity to reclaim some semblance of balance and equanimity after Bob’s piercing — though fair — admonitions!

“I know just the place — Turtle Bread!   We just had raspberry pie there last Sunday. Terrific… the best!” Off we went with nearly two hours left on our prepaid parking meter.

We hadn’t even placed our order when I know I’d scored big time. “Love this place, so much better than the bland, uniform, generically orchestrated Stabucks or Caribou. This place has life, character, personality, distinction.” I relished Bob’s approval.

He continued, “Look around, this is the world! I don’t even feel sorry for those two guys in their white shirts and ties — at least they have the good sense to come to a place like this!”

Though I’ve known Bob for a while now, each time we are together reveals something beguiling and compelling.

I knew about his 70-plus years of struggle with drug addiction. Today’s revelation was his five years in federal prison associated with his drug use.  The transparency of his sharing knocked me off-balance once again.  Of course, I blurted out something totally inept.

“Wow, I’ve never been in prison. So, what was that like?” This time Bob entertained my stupidity and awkwardness but seemed to shift to a wholly different psychic space.

“You learn to mind your own business! You keep your mouth shut. You see trouble, you turn and walk the other direction.”

Ouch! Now, I felt tables turned. Just as he had admonished me about expressing gratitude with a clear yes of no, or had chastened me to celebrate the manifest beauty all around, I wanted to blurt out, “Bob, don’t do that! Stop that!”

I restrained my urge to tell him that is no way to live. This will wait for another time.  However, I returned with a whole new insight into why Bob would be so appreciative of all the Global Market symbolized and for the depth of human connection he savored at Turtle Bread.

We began as two men entering conversation best as we are able. Two men, though with very different addictions, backgrounds, spiritualities and perspectives made an effort to talk — community happens, understanding deepens, appreciation expands.

We discover we are vastly more alike than we had ever presumed or allowed ourselves to imagine.  Still, we each have much to learn that only someone other than ourselves can teach.

Hurry-Up and Slow-Down

“McDonalds ruined us!” No, this isn’t a comment from a Wait Watchers meeting or a cardiac rehab training. It was made by a friend lamenting how we have become people who want what we want, the way we want it, when we want it… now!

Others have certainly copied what McDonalds pioneered. Fast-food has clearly become a more apt symbol of our impatient consumer culture than holiday dinner at Grandma’s house.

Patience — or my lack thereof — recurred throughout the past weekend. Planting a 10′ Heritage Oak tree yesterday I grieved that I would not live long enough to see this tree in its maturity. Why do some things have to take so long?

Yet, I tried to envision those yet unknown who would someday relax under the shade of a mighty oak. I mustered some satisfaction that tree planting is a blessing we can confer on generations yet unborn. Still, I want the tree to hurry-up and grow!

Patience also surfaced as an important theme at a reunion on Saturday. I had been privileged to assist with a retreat in April for eight men who were in various stages of recovery and had experienced homelessness as part of their experience with addiction. No one, absolutely no one, understands the demands of patience like these men.

Those who struggle with chronic relapse — and isn’t that all of us honest enough to admit we are not perfect — know in our bones how desperately difficult being patient can be.  If we cannot dispense with them quickly, our well engrained cultural habit is just to ignore our faults or deny we have a problem.  More honest than most of us, these men wrestle with excruciating demands of patience every day.

Coincidentally — providentially? — one of the other reunion planners had selected the following by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for our opening meditation. Don’t be put off by the length, its worth the read:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

One of the men on retreat said it better and much more simply. Noting what technology has popularized far beyond what McDonalds pioneered, he said in only 15 words what the renown Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin needed 164 words to say:

We’re the microwave generation. But we all know food tastes much better from the slow cooker!

Despite our dependence on fast-food and the latest kitchen technology, I am consoled to believe that most of us would still prefer Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house.  Now, there’s hope for recovery!

Progress = Perfection

Okay, I admit it… I deliberately laid a trap to see if I would catch him in dishonesty — let’s not even call it a lie. I was speaking with a dear friend in a life and death struggle with alcoholism. My trap? A simple question: “Are you drinking?”

Honesty carries fresh urgency these days. Denial, deception, white-lies and half-truths abound. We all do it! Maybe that’s why Bill Clinton got off so easy in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. We identified with his squirming machinations. Remember his emphatic assertion: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”? We’ve all spouted such half-truths.

We only wish we were as verbally dexterous as the ex-President. What he said was technically correct, but was it honest? If by “sexual relations” we mean sexual intercourse, Mr Clinton is telling the truth. That’s what he wanted us to believe. If “sexual relations” means a range of intimate sexual activity the President’s nose surpassed Pinocchio. And, we all saw his nose grow exponentially!

We all saw it because we all do it. Perfect honesty seems impractical if not impossible. We practice denial and indulge deception telling half-truths. We further deceive ourselves if we let ourselves off the hook just because perfection is beyond our reach or ability. What’s needed is not perfection but progress!

The other thing that’s needed is to set for ourselves a very high bar of personal accountability. My 45 y/o nephew just completed the Boston Marathon. He was uncompromising in pursuit of his bucket-list goal! Extenuating circumstances like rain, wind and temps in the 40s conspired such that he missed his desired time by 8 minutes.

Perfection was out of reach. Post-run photos suggest it wasn’t even pretty! Yet, Dean finished his marathon in 3 hours and 38 minutes and deserves all the accolades that are rightfully his. There was no Clintonian duplicity in his performance, no mincing of words, just raw foot-to-the-pavement pursuit of an illusive goal.

Dean may have completed the Boston Marathon, but Dean is far from finished. As if taking a page from Step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am confident the point of Dean’s exploit is to take the principles learned in “finishing Boston” and to apply them in all his endeavors. Such persistent progress, not perfection, is a worthy goal for all of us!

The snare I laid for my friend was not meant to be deceptive or a cynical trap. Rather, it was a well-intentioned question about his progress.  Just as finishing the Boston Marathon is a momentous indicator of one’s enduring practices and principles. So too is plain and simple honesty within each of our lives, especially when it isn’t easy or even pretty!

For as every alcoholic knows, it’s ultimately not about the alcohol. It’s about the much fuller, all in-composing “spiritual awakening” that restores us to living once again. Let’s be honest, it’s about taking the wisdom we learn from running our own hellish marathon and applying the lessons consistently across the board.

That sets a pretty high bar. Today I am grateful to both my nephew and my dear friend for showing me that goals can be achieved. In life, persistent hard-earned progress equals perfection!

FRED

Jeb the Dog joined twelve men on retreat this weekend. Because it was held at Dunrovin Retreat Center on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix river, Jeb thought he’d gone to heaven.  The rest of us looked at ways we create hell here below with an eye to our way out.

This was all part of the Ignatian Spirituality Project that offers retreats to those who have experienced homelessness at some point and are “in recovery” from some type of addition. As all who work a Twelve-Step program know, it makes no difference whether you are there as part of the staff or a participant.  We are all in this together, all of us recovering from one thing or another, all seeking a more authentic way of being human.

One simple acronym — FRED — got to the core of what our time together was all about.  It stands for Fear, Resentment, Ego and Dishonesty. Pay attention to FRED and we will be well on our way to a spirituality of “some earthly good”.

FEAR — What “secret” festers in the recesses of our awareness such that its exposure would destroy us (or at least we are paralyzed by the prospect that it would)? Find a safe place to tell your story out loud to at least one other caring person.

RESENTMENT — People fail us, betray us, deeply hurt us. As one of the men said this weekend, “My resentment toward [——-] has had me by the balls for 50 years!” Let go of it! This may take time, bit by bit. Let it go — don’t give anyone this kind of emotional power over your life.

EGO — Many of us wear masks and try to project a picture-perfect image to the world. Take it from me, this is exhausting! We balk at being called “selfish” all the while our unbridled “control-center” bullies us and everyone within its reach. Try being honest, vulnerable, transparent, “real” — we find ourselves in good company (perhaps for the first time, our own!).

DISHONESTY — We may call them half-truths or “white lies” but we all tell them. We repeat stories so often they take on a reality of their own. We rationalize our behavior until it becomes acceptable, at least to ourselves.  Denial and deception hang out in the same neighborhood with dishonesty!  Yes, privacy and discretion have their place — not everyone deserves the whole truth, except ourselves. No one deserves a half-truth, most of all ourselves. Get real!

We don’t need to have experienced homelessness, at least in a literal sense, to recognize our need to get to know FRED better.  We don’t need to have gone through treatment for drug or alcohol addiction but it helps!

Being in recovery is not just about abstinence from drugs or alcohol.  It’s an honest admission that fear, resentment, ego and dishonesty too often have us by the balls.  Folks in recovery are just honest enough to admit this universal truth and are willing to work on it.

Rarely am I among more grateful, genuine and unpretentious men as I was this weekend. We would all be blessed to be more like them.